I am a huge Brandon Sanderson fan. I’ve read nearly everything he’s released. Everything except The Rithmatist and the Wheel of Time books. The Rithmatist is on my to-read list. The Wheel of Time books are not. While I adore Sanderson’s work, I’ve never been able to get into Robert Jordan’s. When it was announced that Sanderson would be completing Wheel of Time after Jordan passed away, I was excited for Sanderson, but bummed because there were suddenly going to be these two books in his body of work that I was never going to read. From what I have heard, Sanderson is a Wheel of Time fan, and was not only delighted to be asked but dedicated himself to finishing the series in a strong manner, basing the work on Jordan’s own notes.
Contrast this with what happened when Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry passed away. I grew up with Star Trek. I loved Star Trek. By the time Roddenberry passed away, creative control of the franchise had passed to Rick Berman. Granted, Berman was groomed to take over the Star Trek franchise, but it became clear fairly quickly that he either didn’t get Roddenberry’s vision or simply wasn’t interested in it. Now, J.J. Abrams is running things as the director of the rebooted movie series, and it’s not entirely clear what of the original vision was passed on to him.
When Les Miserables came to the big screen last winter, Disalmanacarian tweeted: Can’t wait for the sequel, Les Mi2. On the one hand, it reflected the current movie production culture where movies, regardless of how well they’ve done, get a sequel. In this case, though, there’s no material to base a sequel on. Victor Hugo has been dead for over a hundred years. Any sequel would have to be created out of thin air, effectively making it fan fiction. Not that this stopped Disney in the 90’s and 00’s, but it can have mixed success.
The practice does encourage an interesting question: When does carrying on someone’s creative legacy stop being a change in leadership and start being fan fiction? Is it the level of success? The training and pedigree of the person tasked with continuing the story? The recognized authority of the person conferring the right to continue the story? Because when you get right down to it, someone else taking over a creative franchise is going to bring their own vision to the party and the late creator is not in a position to say, “Yes, this is canon,” or, “No, you fool. That would never happen. Where did you get that?”